By Neil Geoghegan
@NeilMGeoghegan on Twitter
TREDYFFRIN >> It is quite unusual, seeing a boys’ lacrosse powerhouse like Conestoga with a sub .500 record. But sometimes the raw numbers can be deceiving, and that certainly appears to be the case with the Pioneers.
With just one win in its first three outings against ridiculously tough competition, ‘Stoga responded forcefully in what amounted to a must-win home clash against league foe Strath Haven Tuesday. The Pioneers scored the first 10 goals and went on to top the Panthers 11-5 at Teamer Field.
“Every league game is important, and I thought our guys came out, got a lead and stuck with it until we pulled our starters,” said Conestoga head coach Brody Bush.
Now 2-1 in the Central League (2-3 overall), ‘Stoga remains just a game off the pace in the league standings following an earlier setback to Radnor, the defending state champs. Strath Haven falls to 1-2, 1-4.
“We came out a little slow,” said Panthers’ first-year head coach Josh Davey. “We have a lot of young guys and we are still trying to find the right pieces.
“We finally scored a couple at the end, but I am a little disappointed in the overall effort.”
The Pioneers were injured without four starters, including top midfielder Peter Detwiler, who suffered a broken foot in the season opener and will likely miss the rest of the regular season. The rest of the list includes defenders Will Preston and Toby Murphy (concussion), and senior attacker Chase Kelly (hamstring).
But two remaining stars – attacker Patrick Reilly and goaltender Patrick Jameison – are healthy, and both made their mark on Tuesday.
Signed to play Division I college lacrosse at Bucknell, Reilly was a dominant force, registering a hat trick before the end of the first period and finishing with five goals (and an assist) on the day. The senior scored just about every way possible: on several great individual moves, on the fast break, off a cut to the goal mouth and off a steal to a wide open cage.
“His first step is so explosive – it might be the fastest of any attacker I’ve ever coached,” said Bush, who is in his eighth season at the helm.
A junior, Jamesison turned aside all nine shots he faced through the first three quarters. He has already verbally committed to playing college ball at Duke.
“We have the best goalie in the state, and it gives you another layer of comfort,” Bush added.
Ultra aggressive at the start, Reilly’s three goals and another by senior midfielder Michael Austin made it 4-0 after one. And in the second, junior Drew Merschel scored two more, and then Reilly made it 7-0 at the break with a steal deep in Strath Haven’s defensive zone and a tally.
“This is the first home win of our season,” Reilly pointed out. “We just needed this for momentum going forward.
“We have a bunch of key players out, so we can’t take any game for granted.”
With addition goals by Reilly and Austin, and another from senior Mitch Baker, the margin increased to 10-0 through three quarters, and that’s when Bush started to substitute, particularly on defense.
“Our goal for this game was no goals for the first quarter, and to score at least three goals per quarter, which we were able to do until the fourth,” Reilly said.
The Panthers got a single goal from junior Tate Gorman, and two apiece from juniors Jamison Soeiro and Austin Connor, in the final 12 minutes of action.
“We had some good things happen — our goalie, Charles Bogert, has played excellent every game,” Davey said.
“But some things that are hurting us are self-inflicted. I think the word I’ve used over and over is discipline. We turned the ball over a lot because we are taking shots very early in possessions. And on defense we’re not talking enough. It’s little things but they make a big difference in a game like today.”
Senior Ian Kim also came up big for ‘Stoga on face offs when it counted, winning eight of nine in the first half.
In addition to Radnor, the Pioneers’ other losses have come to national power Gilman (Maryland) and Friends League standout Academy of the New Church.
“I believe to be the best you have to play the best,” Bush said. “So I always schedule difficult non-conference games. Injuries have not helped us.
“The one positive is that our guys have bought into the next man up mentality. It’s given some out more inexperienced guys and opportunity to get better and that will benefit us later in the year. You want to be your best in May or June, not in March or April.”
In the previous seven seasons under Bush, Conestoga’s captured at least a share of the Central League five times and has won a pair of District 1 titles.
11 Conestoga, 5 Strath Haven
Strath Haven 0 0 0 5 — 5
Conestoga 4 3 3 1 — 11
Strath Haven goals: Soeiro 2, Connor 2, Gorman.
Conestoga goals: Reilly 5, Sharkey, Austin 2, Baker, Merschel 2.
Goalie saves: Bogert (SH) 9; Jamesison (C) 9; Nissen tree (C) 3.